NL·From The Ground Up

Meet the teen transforming the way King's Point grows — and eats

The town of King's Point was once known as "the green spot of Green Bay" for its vibrant farming scene. Thanks to one teenager's passion, it might just be that way again.

Kasey Budgell, 14, is helping to bring an earth-sheltered greenhouse to her town

Valmont Academy student Kasey Budgell has one of the biggest green thumbs in King's Point, N.L. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

From The Ground Up is a new CBC series in collaboration with Food Producers Forum, looking at how small-scale growers are digging and dreaming agricultural innovations in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The town of King's Point was once known as "the green spot of Green Bay" for its vibrant farming scene. And thanks to one teenager's passion and drive — along with the backing of the entire community — it might just be that way again. 

Kasey Budgell, 14, doesn't just have a green thumb. One look around her lush greenhouse — filled with pots of jalapeno pepper plants, tomato seedlings, radishes and more — hints at something well beyond a backyard hobby. Growing has been a family passion for generations, she said, recalling that as a tot she'd trail her grandfather around his garden.

"I'd always want to be able to cut the turnip tops off, and be hands-on with it, but I was so little I wasn't allowed to," she said.

Fast-forward a decade, and Kasey is fully hands-on, now learning to operate an excavator and loader to help till the family's veggie fields (using the dump truck will have to wait until she gets her driver's licence).

But beyond those plots that feed her family, Kasey has secured the first steps toward bringing something bigger to King's Point: an earth-sheltered greenhouse.

Such a structure follows the function of a regular greenhouse, amplifying the sun's rays for the plants inside. But an earth-sheltered one situates its main plastic or glass wall to the south, with the rest of it sunk into the ground or a hill to get an extra boost of insulation with no extra heating bills.

This earth-sheltered greenhouse is currently under construction at O'Brien's Farm in St. John's, a project involving the Food Producers Forum, O'Brien's Farm Foundation and Memorial University. (Submitted by the Food Producers Forum)

In reading about them, Kasey learned they can extend the growing season well into December — a tantalizing thought in a town with one small grocery store where produce, like much of Newfoundland and Labrador's, was picked long ago and far away.

A 'screaming' success

The Food Producers Forum, a non-profit group that aims to help improve food security in the province through agricultural initiatives, is building an earth-sheltered greenhouse at O'Brien's Farm in St. John's in conjunction with Memorial University. As it enters its final stages of construction, the Food Producers Forum issued a call across Newfoundland and Labrador for people to build more.

Kasey came across that proposal and put pen to paper, filling out the needed forms. She and another student also asked the town council for support, and — impressed with their gusto — the politicians jumped on board.

"It was really amazing to see a junior high school student, for goodness' sake, come in and present to a table of community councillors with the level of confidence that she did," said Perry Blanchard, a King's Point town councillor.

Kasey stands by one of her family's vegetable plots. Last year, the family bagged 26 sacks of potatoes and stored them in their root cellar to last the winter. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

The town pledged in-kind support: the labour to build it, a hookup to town water, and a location. Add in about $10,000 raised, and Kasey's application was in the mail.

"We looked at this letter … and went, 'Holy moly! This project's being led by a 14-year-old!'" said Dan Rubin of the Food Producers Forum.

Not long after, Kasey found out King's Point had been selected as one of the seven successful applications out of 26 total greenhouse entries.

"I was so excited the day that I actually got picked, I started, like, jumping up and down in my classroom, just screaming. I was so happy," said Kasey. 

Kasey envisions a vegetable-filled future in King's Point, with the greenhouse open to the entire community, "to let the people that may not have the land or the means to actually have a place of their own, to go up there and use it as if it was their own," she said.

King's Point councillor Perry Blanchard, pictured in the town's community garden, says small-scale initiatives like the greenhouse keep youth interested and active in the town. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Kasey's family has a root cellar to store their veggies, and she hopes to add a community version to the greenhouse, where people will be able to trade taters, turnips and more.

"Hopefully by the end of this, a few years' time, our community could be like sustainable, all by themselves," she said.

Talking to Kasey about her overall plan was "a total inspiration," said Rubin. 

"It just lifted my spirits. It made me realize that this work that we're doing, as gardeners, really is about community. and she's leading the pack."

Kids leading the way

The greenhouse will go by the community garden, an initiative founded a few years ago by the all-grade school, Valmont Academy, where Kasey is finishing up Grade 9.

Valmont Academy has gone all in with agriculture: it started a schoolwide effort, Project Greenspot, this spring to boost growing knowledge within its grades, and now has hydroponic lettuce sprouting in each class and newly hatched chicks destined to produce eggs. 

"We want our roots to show, and we want to connect to our culture," said principal Ryan Kelley.

Kasey had school support with her greenhouse idea, even though she might not have needed it.

"One of the things that our school always stood by was that it takes a village to raise a child. But we're soon realizing and learning that it takes a child to lead a community," Kelley said.

And leading the community she is, as Coun. Blanchard said the future of King's Point relies on such youthful energy and ideas like the earth-sheltered greenhouse to make it viable for generations to come.

That addresses two vital needs in rural parts of the province at once: a way to stop the demographic drain overall, and in particular the agricultural scene. Newfoundland and Labrador's farming sector, already the smallest in Canada, is shrinking.

"We see this in a bit of our vision, as a way to sustain King's Point," he said.

"So it's the ability to infuse new ideas, to get the exchange of information from youth like Kasey in our community from the existing population of experienced agriculturalists … and maybe one day revive agriculture, bring new people into the region."

The King's Point greenhouse is expected to be built next year.


Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Colleen Connors